I don’t know if I would consider this my first storm chase, but if the shoe fits, go for it. My first, and so far, only pictures of a tornado happened in August 17, 2001. I was living in Louisiana and drove up to North Dakota to visit family. When it was time to start heading back down south, I had noticed a couple of clouds in the distance. After crossing the North Dakota/South Dakota border on Interstate 29, the clouds were growing. As the miles were clicking away and the afternoon sun was doing a great job of heating everything, those small clouds were growing into nice looking thunderstorms. They were already starting to anvil out as the tops were hitting the tropopause. When I passed through Sioux City, South Dakota, the interstate veered towards the southeast and I started driving straight for the storm. I was telling myself, this should be interesting. It was quite large now and very dark, mind you this is late afternoon. At this point I was listening to local radio and there were already reports of tornados going through small areas around Sioux City, Iowa. Just outside the city, the interstate curved south again. Just my luck. About 20 miles goes by into Iowa when I look over to the west side of the interstate when I spot a wall cloud.
At the time I didn’t know the actual name of that formation. Because it looked interesting, I kept a close eye on it. After a few more minutes I noticed a funnel start to lower. At this time I pulled over to the shoulder, along with most of the drivers on the interstate at that time. Then I remembered that I still had film in the camera. Now mind you this was a little tornado, F-0 at best with wind speeds of approximately 40-72 mph.
Now it finally touched down and crossed the interstate probably about a quarter of a mile in front of me. At this time I couldn’t press the shutter button on my camera fast enough. It stayed on the ground for about 7 minutes. After the tornado dissipated I drove ahead till I got to the on ramp that I thought the tornado passed over. There were a number of vehicles parked there that got a very close up view of it.
After a few minutes of staring east towards the storm I decided to continue on my trip. I had to make it to Oklahoma City before I shut down for the night.
For the rest of the drive it was starting to get dark, I had a beautiful lightning show all the way to Kansas. In the end my best estimate was that the line of storms stretched from the North Dakota/South Dakota border all the way into central Missouri. The other crazy thing was that the entire time I was with this storm, I didn’t get a single raindrop on the car. The storm was roughly over the Missouri River but never over Interstate 29.
According to the Storm Prediction Center there were 13 reports of tornados.
http://www.spc.noaa.gov/climo/reports/010817_rpts.html. Retrieved 09-28-2012.
Unfortunately I could not find a surface analysis for that date. The archive at HPC North American Surface Analysis archive does not go that far back.
— Ryan Strankowski